Dozens of new coronavirus cases were logged last week among the Savannah River Site's thousands-strong workforce, a microcosm of two states, South Carolina and Georgia, battling an increasingly grave public-health crisis.
A total 183 cases of COVID-19, the disease the highly contagious virus causes, had been confirmed at the site as of July 24. Eighty-one cases – a minority – were considered active at the time.
A week prior, on July 17, 131 cumulative cases had been reported at the south-of-Aiken nuclear reserve. On July 10, the count was 87.
One Savannah River Nuclear Solutions employee died weeks ago because of the coronavirus. SRNS President and CEO Stuart MacVean in a July 6 memo described the loss as a "somber reminder."
The health and safety of "the Site workforce is the priority of SRS leadership," officials said in a recent online update, now typically refreshed at the end of the work week. "DOE is continuing to analyze the potential impacts of the pandemic to project and regulatory milestones. We will continually monitor and assess local conditions and adjust the pace of resumption of operations as necessary."
The Savannah River Site, overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy, remained in phase one of its return-to-normal plans as of Monday morning. The site and its contractors months ago pivoted to essential mission-critical operations exclusively, a posture that paused some work, greatly reduced the number of people on site, demanded teleworking, and prioritized national defense and nuclear weapons missions.
National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty in an interview with the Aiken Standard July 10 said the pandemic had not slowed or interrupted the agency's long-term plans to produce plutonium pits in both South Carolina, at SRS, and New Mexico, at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"We've hit all of our milestones on all of our programs," Gordon-Hagerty said. "We're working great."
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Gordon-Hagerty at a July 9 meeting discussed the pandemic and its effects on the state.
More than 82,00 cases of COVID-19 and 1,400 virus-related deaths have been confirmed in the Palmetto State to date. In the three counties surrounding the Savannah River Site, Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale, the cumulative caseload has surpassed 1,600 with more than 20 deaths.
Masks were made mandatory at a majority of Savannah River Site operations June 29. The cities of Aiken and New Ellenton, the latter an SRS neighbor, are enforcing mask-wearing rules, as well.